DUI: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Blue lights in the rear view mirror is one of the worst feelings in the world. Everything you say and do during a traffic stop could impact the resolution of your criminal charges. There are some very basic things you can do to not make the situation any worse than it has to be.
When the officer approaches your vehicle, make sure you have your hands on the steering wheel or where the officer can see them. It is good practice to already have your window down at that time. Be respectful, cooperate with the officer, and answer all the officer’s questions. This does not mean tell the officer your entire life story. What you say and how you say it may raise the officer’s suspicion. So be honest without giving unnecessary details.
The officer will start by asking for your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and insurance. This will take a couple minutes, or longer, for the officer to verify with the state system that all your documents are valid and that you have no outstanding warrants. While the officer is doing this, do not make any sudden movements inside the car and do not get out of the car.
Once the officer has verified the documents, he or she will return to you and your vehicle. If the officer suspects you have been drinking or are under the influence you will likely be asked to step out of the car. At this point the officer, if not done so prior, will ask you if you have been drinking, will likely inform you that he or she sees or smells signs of intoxication, and will ask you if you will perform what are called Field Sobriety Tests. THESE TESTS ARE VOLUNTARY and you can refuse to do them. Keep in mind, though, that if you refuse them, the officer will use what information and facts he or she has at that time to make a determination on whether to arrest you for DUI. The officer must have probable cause to believe you were driving under the influence. Probable cause means it is more probable than not. This does not require the officer to be certain. Even without performing the Field Sobriety Tests, facts the officer takes into consideration in deciding whether to arrest can include: your driving behavior (weaving, speeding, running a stop sign); a delayed reaction in pulling over once the officer initiated the blue lights; your physical appearance, such as blood shot eyes; slurred speech; and the smell of alcohol coming from you or your vehicle.
Should you agree to take the Field Sobriety Tests, they will likely include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, the Walk and Turn, and the One Leg Stand. Other tests may be conducted but those three are the standard. Throughout these tests the officer will look for certain clues that he or she was trained to detect. After those tests are concluded, the officer will probably ask you if you will blow into a Portable Breath Test, or PBT. The officer should, and will likely, inform you that the PBT is NOT the state administered breath test. This device is an on-scene tools that officers use to detect the presence of alcohol in ones breath. Although the PBT will give a number reading, that number is not admissible in court. The PBT can only be used to say whether the breath was positive or negative for alcohol. Again, THIS TEST IS VOLUNTARY, and you can refuse. At this point it is likely the officer has already made a determination whether to arrest you.
If the officer believes he or she has sufficient probable cause to believe you were driving under the influence, you will be placed under arrest. The officer will handcuff you, inform you that you are under arrest for driving under the influence, and then tell you there is something he or she must read to you called Implied Consent. This results in the infamous question “To Blow or Not To Blow??” And again, this is your choice. Even though the first words of the Implied Consent state “Georgia law requires you to submit…” you can still refuse this test. There are some pros and there are some cons to refusing to blow.
First the pros. Well, obviously the state will not have a definite and specific blood alcohol content to present in court. Additionally, if you blow and blow over a .08 the officer can charge you with two counts of DUI – one for DUI less safe, and one for DUI per se. So by not blowing, the officer will not be able to charge you with DUI per se.
Now for the cons. The officer can seek a warrant and negate all those pros. If an officer gets a warrant, it will be for a blood draw. So if the officer initially asked for breath, now they are getting blood. A much more invasive process. Also, if you refuse the requested test initially, there are potentially more serious consequences for your driver’s license. The refusal to take the test is also admissible in a trial against you and can be used by the state as evidence of guilt.
So now, whether you agreed to the implied consent test, you are arrested. You must remember to stay cooperative and respectful throughout this process. Remember that most officers and police vehicles now have cameras and other recording devices. These devices are active while you are in the police vehicle even when the officer is not so do not say anything. You will be taken to the jail and booked in. This process can seem like forever, and sometimes actually is. At some point you will get an opportunity to make a phone call and make arrangements to get a bond. If you are unable to make bond or contact someone to help, you will have your first appearance before a judge within 48 hours of your arrest if your arrest was done without a warrant, or 72 hours if there was an arrest warrant.
Now comes the important part. You have VERY LITTLE TIME to send a letter to the Department of Driver Services to appeal the automatic suspension of your license. This must be done within THIRTY DAYS (if violation received on or after July 1, 2017). For this reason, it is extremely important to consult with an attorney as soon as possible after your arrest. The process can be complicated and a bit overwhelming. An experienced attorney will know just what to do. An attorney will then guide you through the process while being the intermediary between you and the prosecutor. A DUI can be resolved rather quickly if you do not wish to fight it. However, if you do want to fight the charge, the process can last months and even years. Whether your case moves quickly or slowly, you need a dedicated and experienced attorney to help you understand everything that happens along the way and get the best resolution possible to your charges.